By Gina Smith
NEWBERRY, S.C._ Pumping fists in the air and hoisting signs that read "Black Power" and "Justice for Anthony Hill," a hundred or so demonstrators marched Saturday from a Newberry neighborhood park to the Newberry County Courthouse, rallying for a new day in race relations in this small town in central South Carolina.
Some came because, they say, local police pull black motorists over without cause, question black youths whenever they're unsupervised and do not pursue crimes against blacks as vigorously as those against whites.
Others came because they believe the school system treats black students differently from white ones.
Still others came because of concerns over substandard conditions in the city's public housing.
But all agreed the area's racial tension can no longer be ignored after a local white man, Gregory Collins, was arrested _ in early June in the shooting death of his coworker Anthony Hill. Hill's corpse had been behind a truck for nearly 11 miles, police said.
"Anybody who says prejudice is gone, I'm sorry but they're wrong," said Marquesia Abney of Newberry who demonstrated Saturday. "People need to wake up. I hear a lot of people around here say, '(This crime) has nothing to do with me.' But if you live in this community, if you have kids, it does affect you. The message has to get out that people can't do things like this."
"It's time people wake up," added Abney's friend Mike Raiford of Newberry. "Wake up and realize we get treated very poorly in this community."
A group of local and national reporters worked the event while _ law enforcement officers from the city, county and state surrounded the peaceful event, some on foot, others in ATVs, on motorcycles or in vehicles.
The crowd, which included several demonstrators who came in from other states including Georgia and Texas, eventually swelled to several hundred at the courthouse to join in chants and prayers.
Police have Collins in custody, having arrested him a few hours after the incident.
That's not enough, said Malik Zulu Shabazz, president of the New Black Panther Party, the primary speaker at Saturday's event. He claimed during Saturday's rally that Collins did not act alone and implied he should be put to death for the crime.
Instead, Shabazz said, law enforcement is sitting on its hands in an obvious hate crime.
"This case is an outrage. Gregory Collins has not even been indicted. That's right. Over 40 days after (the) dragging and murder," Shabazz yelled to the crowd through a megaphone on the court house steps. "When a man is dragged behind a pickup truck, that is a modern day lynching."
But is it a hate crime, fueled by racial hatred?
Those interviewed in the crowd disagreed.
Some said the brutal nature of the crime is an undeniable echo of the South's racially intolerant past when black men were lynched for failing to obey white men's rules.
Others suspect that this was a crime of passion, the details of which have yet to be released to the public. Rumors swirl that Collins and Hill were at odds over a woman.
Others shrugged their shoulders in uncertainty over the true nature of the crime.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster acknowledged Saturday that unsubstantiated rumors are making the rounds in town about a woman.
"But we have not received any credible information," he said.
As for whether it's a hate crime, Foster said it's up to the U.S. Justice Department to make that decision. South Carolina has no hate crime statute.
As for other claims made by Shabazz including that Collins did not act alone, the sheriff said, "He's obviously got information that we don't have."
Residents lined the route, watching as demonstrators marched by, chanting "I'm black. I'm beautiful" and "Long live Anthony Hill."
"I don't see the point of it," said Ken Gunter, a white Newberry resident who watched the march from the sidelines. "I don't see the hate crime."
Gunter speculates it was a spur of the moment crime over private matters that had nothing to do with race.
Fellow watcher Paul Willis of Newberry agreed.
"I've talked to both blacks and whites and we don't see what this has to do with race," he said.